Where the Open Road Calls: Drive These Epic Middle East and Africa Road TripsBy Valerie Conners
Whether your ideal drive is a multiday road trip traversing mountain passes and desert sand dunes or you prefer a day trip to bask on white sand beaches or explore ancient ruins, the roads of Africa and the Middle East will lead you to your heart’s desire.
Get inspired and check out our picks for some of the continents’ top road trips and drives.
It’s hard to narrow down South Africa’s epic road trip opportunities — there are ample journeys here for every type of traveler.
Take a deep dive into nature on a drive through the Eastern Cape’s Wild Coast, a route that twists from East London in the south to the Kwa-Zulu Natal province’s border. Ride up and down undulated hillsides specked with brilliant blue rondavels (circular thatched-roof huts), past rugged stretches of coastline and idyllic beaches.
While the natural beauty is jaw-dropping, also make time to check out heritage sites in the region dedicated to anti-apartheid activists and icons Nelson Mandela and Steve Biko, both of whom were born in the area.
For a glimpse of the stunning southwestern coast’s diverse ecosystems, colorful flora, mountain forests and divine beaches, drive the 200-km (124-mile) Garden Route along the N2 highway from Mossel Bay in the Western Cape to Storms River Mouth on the Eastern Cape.
From its historic cities and vibrant casbahs to towering mountains, the windswept Sahara and striking coastlines, Morocco offers wildly diverse experiences best explored by car at one’s own pace.
Start your trip in Casablanca, visiting the Hassan II Mosque before hitting the road north toward the decidedly more relaxed vibes of the old imperial city of Meknes. Check out the Bab Mansour Gate, known for its intricate designs, and wander the old market. From here it’s an easy ride to Fes, where you’ll want to explore its sprawling medina, or old city.
Fes is a perfect jumping-off point for a journey through the High Atlas Mountains — an absolute must while visiting Morocco. It’s a long drive, but you’ll have plenty of opportunities to stop at various overlooks and viewpoints.
Plan to land in Merzouga, and from there either plot a trip to the Erg Chebbi dunes and a Sahara Desert adventure, or wind your way to Marrakech. While here, make your way to the main square, Jemaa el-Fna, in the old quarter, and haggle for souvenirs in the maze of souks.
Parts of Morocco were heavily damaged in a September 2023 earthquake. Please check local travel advisories before planning a trip to the region.
Jordan’s dramatic desert landscape, ancient ruins, lush oases, picturesque coastal towns and hilltop villages make it a dream destination for intrepid road trippers. From Amman, a visit to Petra is an absolute must. The ancient, rose-hued, rock-cut capital of the Nabataean people, with its otherworldly sandstone gorge, tombs and temples, feels like a secret portal into an intriguing period of history.
From Petra, make the drive to Wadi Rum. Wadi translates to “desert valley,” and the stark, seemingly infinite landscape of orange-red dunes, weather-sculpted sandstone cliffs, jarring rocks, bridges, arches and gorges in Wadi Rum can make you feel like you’re on another planet.
Or, if you’re feeling like making a splash along the coast, head to the Dead Sea, the lowest point on earth at more than 430 meters (1,412 feet) below sea level. While you cannot swim here due to the hypersalinity, the high buoyancy means you’ll be floating on your back quite effortlessly. The minerals in the mud are believed to reinvigorate your skin, and spas along the coast offer mudpacks that you can apply before you get in.
United Arab Emirates
Leave the constant bustle of Dubai for a drive north toward the tiny emirate of Ajman and onward to the seaside village of Ras Al-Khaimah. Take time to stop along the way to see the old wooden dhows bobbing in the harbor in Sharjah, palm-lined sandy beaches in Ajman, restored wind-tower houses in Umm Al Quwain and the atmospheric old souks in Ras Al-Khaimah.
If you do only one road trip in the UAE, visit laid-back Al Ain. As you drive the straight stretch of blacktop, focus on spotting some camels against the tan-colored dunes. Once in Al Ain, known as the Garden City for its lush greenery, you have forts to explore, date-palm oases to discover and, at Hili Archaeological Park, Bronze Age tombs to wander.
Finally, the Musandam Peninsula is not technically in the UAE (it’s an enclave of Oman). Still, this drive from Dubai to Khasab is one of the most jaw-dropping on the Arabian Peninsula. From the UAE–Oman border, the winding road hugs the coast — and each turn reveals yet another tranquil bay where fishermen mend nets and locals cross the beach to buy fresh seafood from the boats.